Davis’ Deep Dives: No. 24 St. Bonaventure basketball season preview 2021-22

St. Bonaventure basketball has the band back together. How special will the Bonnies be in ’21-22?

Riley’s Ranking: 27th

Ah, the good ol’ A-10. There’s something about the league that’s so wholesome and pure. The mid-major conference that isn’t really a mid-major conference always delivers well-coached teams, exciting games, and passionate fan bases. Memorable postseason moments only enhance its mystique — who could forget Jameer Nelson’s Elite 8 run, the 2010 Xavier-Kansas State classic, or Dayton over Syracuse in 2014? (Plus, they can claim Steph Curry and HAVOC with minimal objections. Not too many people are Googling when Davidson and VCU joined the conference).

The intrigue that surrounds the A-10 leads to an annual tradition — speculating on which of its teams can make the jump to national relevancy. The league has more than enough talent to project a top-25 team. However, maintaining that level of play throughout the season remains a tall task. Since 2014, the only A-10 team to finish in KenPom’s top-25 is 2020 Dayton. Lest you forget, that was a transcendent squad led by a top-5 pick. Still, the Bonnies have the skill and experience to play well into March.

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Mark Schmidt’s squad finds its calling on the defensive end, where it plays with fantastic discipline and communication. Through a man-to-man scheme with some 1-3-1 sprinkled in, the Bonnies strongarm opponents into long possession. And those possessions often end in contested shots; St. Bonaventure basketball ranked top-40 nationally in both 2-point percentage and 3-point percentage defense, per Bart Torvik. Furthermore, opponents scored over 1 point per possession in only seven of the Bonnies’ 21 games.

Senior center Osun Osunniyi functions as the lynchpin of the D. The 6-10 big man embodies an impenetrable fortress in the paint, sealing off the entire interior. Even when players get to the basket, they find it tough to escape Osunniyi’s flyswatter arms. Just note his No. 21 rank in block rate from last season. (And these are high-quality swats we’re talking about here. No player in the country evoked more awe from his blocks than Osunniyi).

Most impressively, as Jordan Majewski points out in his thorough A-10 preview, Osunniyi masterfully avoids foul trouble — a rarity for a big-bodied rim protector.

On the perimeter, the Bonnies switch 1 through 4 and make smart rotations in help defense. Wings/forwards Jaren Holmes, Dominick Welch, and Jalen Adaway all work in sync to smother their challengers with strength and length. Combine their measurables with their hyper-charged motors, and even making entry passes against them becomes a chore. (The clip below highlights Holmes denying the ball).

The only time St. Bonaventure really struggled on defense came against LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bonnies possessed a deficit in size and athleticism, which the Tigers exploited by unleashing their swarm of athletes who can attack off the bounce. However, no team in the A-10 has an LSU-type makeup; thus another season of defensive dominance seems imminent.

On the other side of the ball, the Bonnies play a maddening style to scheme against. They control the offensive glass, take the air out of the ball, and keep the lane clear with constant movement. St. Bonaventure basketball deploys the best floor general in the league in Kyle Lofton, a senior who doubles as the team’s emotional leader. The iron man led the nation in percentage of minutes played and has shown incredible durability throughout his career.

On the court, Lofton exhibits craftiness out of ball screens, whether driving to the hoop or finding open teammates. His exquisite passing opens up the Bonnies’ offense; in 2020 and 2021, he finished top-7 in the A-10 in assist rate. While he isn’t overly explosive, he still gets to the line and gets to his mid-range spots with ease. Anything less than a First Team All-A-10 selection would be shocking.

At the 2- and the 3-spots, both Holmes and Welch thrive as slashers who also capably shoot from distance. But equally important is their determination on the boards. The two burly-built wings rebound their position extraordinarily well, as the Bonnies grabbed 32.8 percent of their misses (38th nationally).

In the frontcourt, Adaway emerged as a fantastic small-ball 4 after sitting out the 2020 season due to the old transfer rules. During the conference tournament, the 6-5 forward proved his worth, creating mismatches against bigger teams like Saint Louis and VCU. He fits perfectly next to the herculean Osunniyi.

And while we’re back on the topic of Osunniyi, his impact doesn’t stop with defense. Schmidt often runs the offense through the center. Looking at his makeup, you may assume Osunniyi to be some enormous, vertical athlete without much basketball skill. Far from the truth; he displays some of the best passing you’ll see out of a big man. Shoon’s head coach loves to use him as a facilitator from the elbow or the top of the key. In addition, Osunniyi shows outstanding vision on the short roll. The following Twitter thread illustrates all of this:

Lastly, Schmidt added two power-conference transfers in combo guard Quadry Adams (Wake Forest) and big Abdoul Coulibaly (Pitt). While neither did much for their respective ACC bottom-dwellers, they will be counted on as rotation pieces this season. For a team that ranked 347th in bench minutes last year, any depth is good depth.

So now you know — don’t be the fool that brushes off St. Bonaventure basketball. Sure, the school is in the middle of nowhere. And yes, they play at a pace slower than a computer buffering in the early 2000s. And okay, it’s true that they don’t have the most attractive jerseys in college basketball. But if your power-conference school draws them in the NCAA Tournament? Well, you may see them subsequently brutalized by the Bonnies.

TL/DR:

TLDR:

Projected starters: G – Kyle Lofton (Sr.); G – Jaren Holmes (Sr.),; G/F – Dominick Welch (Sr.); F – Jalen Adaway (R-Sr.); C – Osun Osunniyi (Sr.)

Projected bench: G – Quadry Adams (R-Fr.); F – Abdoul Coulibaly (R-So.); F – Anouar Mellouk (Fr.) 

Strengths: defense; ball movement; slashing

Weaknesses: depth; athleticism; streaky shooting

Best player: Osunniyi

Breakout player: Adams

Header image courtesy of St. Bonaventure athletics.



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